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Cities see success with ‘granny flats’

Like many cities in the Bay Area, Palo Alto and Santa Cruz have been happy to see the growth of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as “granny flats,” throughout the area.

Since relaxing laws to allow such units in 2017, has seen a jump from about four ADU permit applications per year to about four per month. Officials say the growth has not been accompanied by any complaints about either the construction or the increased building density.

The growth of granny flats in California

California state government encourages the growth of ADUs. Former Gov. Jerry Brown and the state legislature legalized ADUs across the state in 2016 and have passed laws that clarify how jurisdictions can plan for them. For example, in 2017 the state approved laws that allow ADUs anywhere zoning laws allow single-family homes, allow ADUs to be built at the same time as new homes, and makes changes on parking requirements and how ADUs access utilities.

In 2017, the Bay Area Council conducted a poll that found 76 percent of area homeowners think the area’s housing shortage is hurting the economy and 40 percent are planning to leave the area. The poll also found that 62 percent think ADUs are a good idea and 25 percent are considering building one.

While local governments are not required to pass ADU ordinances, any ADU built in an area without an ordinance must follow state standards. Local jurisdictions can regulate parking requirements, height, lot size, unit size and other aspects of construction.

Palo Alto, Santa Cruz make some changes

Santa Cruz is using ADUs as infill housing to alleviate the area’s enormous housing crunch. The city published a manual and is considering moves such as allowing two granny flats on large properties, eliminating parking restrictions on the first ADU and, controversially, removing owner-occupancy requirements.

Meanwhile, the Palo Alto City Council last fall agreed to boost an already healthy ADU growth spurt by removing the restriction that ADUs could only be built on lots of 5,000 square feet or greater.

By a single vote, the council decided against removing the requirement that the homeowner occupy either the main or ADU residence on the lot. While some argued that the requirement kept ADUs from becoming the equivalent of doubling up on rental units for out-of-town investors, others cited examples of main-house owners who travel or inherit the dwellings.

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Lawrence R. Jensen & Associates
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San Jose, CA 95113

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